My Durga

Thursday had dawned like any other Thursday with the beep-beep alarm going off on the cell phone. A sickly dawn spread across the dark sky outside and the city paled across the river preparing for another day same as the last one.

It must have been deep slumber that the piercing beeps had penetrated bringing back a reminder that this world was real and could not be ignored much longer. As the real and the unreal meshed apart like the sharp teeth of pruning spears after they had mercilessly cut some hapless shrub into correct shape, I was forced to face the dawn.

Okay. That’s an exaggeration.

The point is that I hate waking up early and I’ve had to do that everyday this week and I’ve hated it. Besides, the season’s been changing and I know what’s coming.

Fall. Which means winter’s not far behind. Which means more mornings of bitter cold. A scary thought for a tropical girl like me.

With dawn has started a mad rush to the underground station. With dawn has started keeping pace with hordes of glassy-eyed people rushing down the escalators like the possessed on their march to hell. The brief train ride, the rise onto the surface, the getting through the turnstiles, the waiting at the lights, the glowing orange palm sign changing to the glowing white striding man and then the old corner.

In short, Thursday had started just like another day.

But in fact, it wasn’t just another day. I didn’t realize that until late at night when I logged into Facebook. Thursday night was actually Friday morning in parts of Facebook.

At home, in Kolkata, it was Mahalaya, the day the Goddess starts her journey down to earth from Mount Kailash. The day that heralds the coming of the festive season, Durga Puja.

Subha Mahalaya
Subha Mahalaya (Photo credit: Kuntal Gupta)

It’s a day when people feel like the light has changed to the wonderful hue of Sharatkaal, the Kashful has bloomed at its best, Pujo music is in the air and all the new dresses have been bought for the four days of excitement about to come in a few days. A day when the pandals housing the deities are complete and Pujo shopping and sales are still on in full force. A month’s holiday in schools and colleges have started and one is finally about to enjoy a break from the monotony of daily life.

A day when one sets the alarm at 4 am to hear the auspicious recitals and songs of awakenings on the radio at dawn.

Unfortunately, it’s a rare 4 am in Kolkata I can remember when I managed to wake up. But I didn’t have to. The Goddess was everywhere. On advertisements, on special issues, in the small lanes and the main roads, in people’s chatter, just about everywhere.

There are some Indians in the area where I live now. I’ve also overheard people speak Bengali on their walks on the boardwalk sometimes. But where is the Goddess? She is nowhere to be found.

There are some stores that have decked up already for Halloween. I know that in a few days there will be pumpkins outside people’s doors. Those decorations somehow underscore the absence of a different set of festivities all around me. The absence of the Goddess echoes the absence of the loving presence of those one was surrounded with when one was immersed in loving and compassionate presences one tended to take for granted.

A million miles away, as I walk back to the apartment building at night, I see a short, stocky figure of a woman at the escalator  all dressed in black. As I approach she stops the doors from closing and waits for me. She is a bit awkward. I get in. We are the only two people inside. She looks tired.

“Long day?” she asks me. Her tired, pale skin and pale hair somehow remind me of the tired paleness of the city opposite the river at dawn.

“Yes,” I say. I’m surprised. People rarely talk in elevators in the NY metro area.

“Everyone is putting in more and making less,” she offers conversation unexpectedly.

I wonder what she’s noticed about me.

“Was it a long day for you too?” I ask.

“No. Tomorrow is Friday. I work from home. It only gets better from here. Hope it gets better for you too.”

The floor sign glows on the digital screen. It’s time for me to exit. I smile at her sudden compassion.

She must have noticed something.

I’m touched by her words. I change my mind as I walk out.

My Goddess is right here too, I think. Everywhere. Always.


If you liked this, check out Durga Puja, Fall, Kashful and the City.

43 thoughts on “My Durga”

  1. This is the first of your blogs that I am having the pleasure of reading, and it was really special! I am indeed very touched by your emotions.
    This annual ritual of ours is something I’ve been taking for granted for the past twenty years of my life, but this made me rethink. You don’t realize the importance of having nice teeth, they say, until the moment comes when you are sitting on the dentist’s chair, and that precisely sums up most of us! Only when distance parts, we realize what we are missing out on. May you become the Durga in the lives of so many others like you.
    Bhalo theko…


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  3. Is Kolkata the same as Calcutta (just the correct spelling, I assume)? I lived with a family from India for 6 months during grad school; it was PHENOMENAL. (I’m fairly tall, and was friends with a sweet, teeny Indian. Her father went to India to meet prospective husbands and asked me to live with his daughter and wife while he was back home…I was sort of an unnecessary bodyguard.) 🙂 She and I used to watch Bollywood movies; she’d translate as we watched. Simply fabulous. We had so much fun. I miss curried mango so much, it’s ridiculous.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hope you have a great Pujo. This was the time for late nights, the crowded drives to see the pandals, the traffic jams at 2am that turned an otherwise sleepy city into a throbbing, glowing hive of activity.

    Facebook alerted me too. And my wife, who is Bengali, too!, was surprised that it was here alerady.

    Good luck.


  5. This was great. I didn’t know you were from India. That was really fun to learn. And the culture you brought into it was particularly fun. I also hate waking up early!


  6. Loved the writing in this post, the wonderful details made me feel the festival season. By the way, I didn’t know Halloween was celebrated in India! d:)


    1. I hear that Halloween *is* celebrated in India nowadays but I’m in the New York City metro area.

      But Kali Puja is celebrated in Calcutta right around Halloween after Durga Puja when fireworks are lighted to fight off evil spirits just like the scary faces are intended to scare spirits during Halloween which makes me think both pagan festivals have a common origin somewhere.


  7. It was a wonderful journey u took all of us along with u. Its true, that in the process of growing up & being independent, the simple happiness, that used to be so close to our heart is seldom found nowadays. But once in a while u surely get the chance,……….may u find your durga all around u, everyday. Take care. lots of love.


  8. It was a wonderful journey u took all of us along with u. Its true, that in the process of growing up & being independent, the simple happiness, that used to be so close to our heart is seldom found nowadays. But once in a while u surely get the chance,……….may u find your durga all around u, everyday. Take care. lots of love.


  9. There are times in life we just sense the Hand of Providence if you will that gives us something special that carry on in our lives. Everyday when I wake up I hope for that kind of encounter. I really do. Thanks for sharing one of yours. Alesia


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